Cooking with Recipes


Aaaaaaand: I’m back! The school year is successfully underway and I finally have more time for other things, like all of you wonderful people.

Have you noticed lately how online food publications want us to be cooking without recipes? Strangely implying that somehow it is better for us home cooks. Becoming free of recipes is some aspirational state that we should all dream of living in someday. It drives me crazy. Most chefs and expert home cooks I know rely on recipes, whether they are memorized or on paper. It is how we get the food to taste the same each time. Maybe it is mostly semantics and what the editors mean is that they want us to be better at improvising. But if that is the case then I am confused by their experience of the internet. You only have to read the comments of any food blog to understand that most people seem pretty comfortable improvising (I was out of chicken stock so I used maple syrup!). Anyway, most of the time immediately following their claim that they are going to teach us how to cook without recipes, there is literally a recipe. So I guess they can’t get away from them either.

This chicken larb(ish) non-recipe is a great example. Not only does it give us all of the instructions, it gives us very specific measurements. And yet claims to not be a recipe. What is happening? (gaslighting!)

I thought you might like it if I converted their non-recipe to a recipe for you. Because I fucking love recipes and I want a lot more of them. Also because this is so totally delicious, and the result of so little effort, that you’ll want to make it all of the time.

Chicken Larb Lettuce Wraps (adapted from a non-recipe on the Bon Appetit site)
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 tablespoons rice vinegar (preferable seasoned, or add a pinch of salt and sugar)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • steamed white rice, for serving
  • Bibb or Butter lettuce leaves, for serving
  • Fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, mint, or parsley, for serving
  • lime wedges, for serving

Toss the red onion and rice vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken, garlic, scallions, and chiles and season with some salt and pepper. Cook until the chicken is cooked through and starting to brown. Stir in the soy sauce, brown sugar, fish sauce, and hot sauce and cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed, a couple of minutes. Serve the larb stuffed into a lettuce leaf with all of the accompaniments and a squeeze of lime juice. Enjoy!

Serves 2-4? (I think it probably realistically serves 3 people)


But that isn’t the only thing I have been making in recent weeks. I am also pretty into the Chicken Tettrazzini recipe the Times published a few weeks ago. My main suggestions here are to use penne and to chop the mushrooms after soaking them. Otherwise, this recipe is golden and something I plan on making regularly all winter.

I’ve also been really into adding some cooked brown rice to my omelettes to make them more of a meal. You get sort of a cross between a rice cake and a frittata. Good stuff.

And if you want to think more about recipes, check out my friend Helen’s Tiny Letter. She has good thoughts. And makes good soup.

Back in the swing of it, baby! More soon.

And yes, it is too much to ask of me to have any photos right now. Baby steps!

This is such a bloggy post! Sorry? xoxo, Tim




22 comments to “Cooking with Recipes”

  1. THANK YOU! The whole “here’s a recipe showing you how to cook without a recipe” oxymoronic trend drives me mad. I’m glad I’m not the only one who actually likes recipes!

  2. So nice to see you back. I’m always amazed when people say it’s impossible to learn to cook from books, since that’s how I managed. Now I use recipes sometimes, sometimes not, though I think cooking for so long has given me tools for improvising when I wish. I do also carry around a lot of baking recipes in my head, which is certainly convenient.

  3. Baby steps, yes. It’s nice to have you back. No apologies necessary. D

  4. Recipes are great! I don’t get it either.
    Do you throw the cooked rice into the uncooked eggs? I’d never thought of doing that. One of my Deborah Madison books says to use cooked quinoa in pancake batter, which I have been thinking of trying.

  5. It’s not a recipe if it’s presented in narrative format? I guess it’s like they’re trying to recreate the experience (for the modern world) of having your mother-in-law stand over you and explain how to make your husband’s favorite pie, both of you wearing aprons. Except, you know, it’s not at all like that. It appears to be a regular recipe except that you have to hunt through the narrative to find ingredients and quantities for your shopping list. Bon Appetit has been doing that a lot lately. Real casual-like.

  6. For some people ‘salt to taste’ is too vague. I love a recipe too and tend to refer to them all the time even when it is a old standby. If nothing else it helps making out the shopping list, not too mention preparing multiple dishes all at once.

  7. Thank you! I’m really not into this trend. I do fine without recipes–that’s not why I go to food sites. I look for recipes there to expand my horizons and push my skills and palette in new directions! I really don’t need a food blog to tell me how to improvise chicken soup.

  8. I can always count on Lottie + Doof for the voice of reason in all the madness. I haven’t been so into the internet for getting my (non)recipes these days, so was unaware of the trend. But man, that’s infuriating.

  9. Welcome back! Been coming to your site for years. I have noticed that trend lately and even though I sometimes tweak their recipe and put my own spend on it, I still like to have a recipe handy. Some type of instructions and like you said, a “list” to follow. But, ultimately I get inspired from what I read.

  10. LOL. Apparently ‘cooking without a recipe’ means: the recipe is inconveniently hidden in narrative form, but with ingredients in bold so you can just about pick out a list… I think we’d all prefer your way!

  11. I’m a big fan of a recipe – maybe that’s why I was comfortable making this non-recipe recipe pretty quickly when I first spotted it! I used ground pork instead of chicken and it was great, starting to rethink dinner for tonight now…

  12. Recipes 4 EVAH. If I don’t have a recipe, I don’t even know how much to buy of something to make sure I have enough! I also need an idea about servings, prep and cooking time, and pot/pan size needed. A little help, please!

    Of course, the more you cook, the more you will get very sure with techniques and know your favorite ways of preparing items. You will surely be able to turn out meals by muscle memory. But when you’re a new cook, or you’re trying something you’ve never made before, you need clues.

  13. YES. Your writing is always so spot on.

  14. Glad you’re back. I find it funny to read their idea of cooking without recipes. I think maybe somebody found old issues of Gourmet magazine and jumped on the idea. Gourmet’s recipes were written in narrative until sometime in the early 1980s. Many of the old cookbooks, like “The Joy of Cooking” and Vincent Price’s “Treasury of Great Recipes” are also written somewhat like that. I like using recipes so the results are consistent and I make notes on them when I make changes. I also make notes if something is below expectations, or a couple of years later, the recipe will turn up again and I will forget that it wasn’t great the first time.

  15. To the other Jeff: Quinoa or chia seeds are great in pancake batter. I do that all the time. Excited to try this rice in the omelette this weekend.

  16. YES! I don’t get the disdain for recipes, even though I do tend to riff on them. Glad to see you back!

  17. Can I just say how much I love your posts?

  18. You make me grin.
    And I love recipes!

  19. I love how you put out there what I’m thinking!! No recipes my a**

  20. Thanks for writing this! When I first started cooking for myself in college, I think I had this notion that cooking from cookbooks was for people who didn’t have any intuitive understanding of cooking. But in retrospective, I really didn’t know what I was doing as I was winging it. Cookbooks have definitely made me a better cook. But more importantly, it’s a whole genre (with many sub-genres) that engages my imagination in a different way than the other things I read. Sure, I can put dinner together without my books, but I can’t imagine my home without them.

    By the way, would you consider putting an easy link to reading your old posts? Some people like to read the archives of their favorite blogs on rainy days. Asking for a friend, etc.

  21. welltailored says:

    November 7th, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    I fully support not doing most of the things food journalism thinks we should be doing these days…like sitting around being all nonchalant in distressed textiles with friends and candles and complicated fish and cocktails that the magazine claim are “a breeze”…or using the word “riff” and the suffix “able”, as in nom-able and riffable. High five recipes!

  22. “I was out of chicken stock so I used maple syrup!”

    I was bummed out today, but read this and it’s cheered me up :)

What do you think?